The largest city in Slovenia, Ljubljana offers a leafy, peaceful small town vibe with all the attractions and activities of a cosmopolitan capital city.
European Green Capital 2016, this mid sized metropolis offers a buzzing centre dedicated (outside delivery hours) to pedestrians, cyclists and public transport. Further adding to those environmental credentials, it is also one of the few European capitals offering safe, natural drinking water straight from the tap (or water fountain). However, don’t let all that greenery, sparkling river and picture perfect architecture fool you – with 63,000 enrolled students, the University of Ljubljana is among the largest universities in Europe with a cultural and partying nightlife to match.
If Ljubljana itself isn’t enough, it’s worth noting the location at the centre of Slovenia makes it a perfect base for further exploration, including the Julian alps, and the diamond in its already glittering crown, Lake Bled. We highly recommend you visit Bled island via traditional wooden boat (Pletna) then climb the 99 stone steps to reach the beautiful Assumption of Mary Church. And on your way, don’t forget to take a moment to drink in the stunning views of the 12th century Bled Castle, standing sentry over the lake on a cliff. Stunning.
If you prefer something a touch more adventurous, then consider visiting the 24,120m long Postojna cave, with its statuesque network of karst tunnels, galleries, and halls. It also boasts the oldest underground post office in the world and the most famous underground animal – the human fish (proteus). If you fancy some overground fun afterwards then the Postojna Adventure Park offers a not-for-the fainthearted trail through the forest via bridges, ladders, ropes and wires.
Top Five To Do List
The Old Town – A tourist hotspot stretching from the banks of the Ljubljanica River to directly below Castle Hill, this is where the work of Jože Plečnik (1872–1957), Slovenia’s famous urban planner shines. Think cobbled streets, arched alleys and monuments as well as bars, cafes, restaurants, shops and, of course, top attractions including Triple Bridge, the river canal, the ornate Franciscan church and Ljubljana castle.
The 16th-century Ljubljana Castle – This complex overlooking the city is the biggest castle in the city and offers a number of interesting museums and historical rooms, as well as galleries, a café, a nightclub, and two restaurants – and of course amazing views from the Outlook Tower. The castle’s courtyard is free to enter if you’re a bit low on funds; though if you have the cash a funicular will take you up the hill and save your pins the walk. Guided tours (Classic or the more fun Time Machine) are available and evening entertainment in the summer ranges from an open air cinema to concerts to dance evenings.
The National and University Library of Slovenia – Designed by good old Jože Plečnik, this is considered his masterpiece. The two handles on the main entrance door are decorated with the head of Pegasus, a winged horse symbolically guiding you to knowledge. From here, head up the central staircase with its 32 pillars of black Podpeč marble and into the grand reading room, lit by chandeliers and two huge glass walls. Regular library tours for individual visitors are run once a month. Guided tours can also be arranged by prior appointment.
Šmarna Gora – Just five miles outside the city, get your hiking boots on for this strenuous 669m climb (roughly 30-35 minutes). There are a number of different routes up and, once there, you can enjoy a drink, some traditional Slovenian food and those views!
Plecnik’s Central market – An open-air and covered market running the breadth of he Ljubljanica river embankment from the Dragon Bridge to Triple Bridge. Here you can pick up fresh Slovenian fruit, vegetables, dry-cured meat, bread and so on – perfect if you’re cooking or picnicking, and a nice walk to drink in the atmosphere if you’re not. Sunday’s flea market finishes at 2pm and offers a lovely Sunday morning stroll through antiques, memorabilia and bric a brac.
The budget or broke recommendation (ie free)
Grab a selfie at the art nouveau Dragon bridge, adorned with four dragon statues that could be straight out of Game of Thrones.
As with all cities, Ljubljana offers a wide variety of restaurants, cafes and food stalls. Highly recommended though, if the timing suits, is the weekly Friday Odprta Kuhna food market (10am to 9/10pm, early spring to late autumn).
If you’re looking for something traditionally Slovenian, then the Kranjska klobasa (Carniolan sausage) or Prekmurska gibanica (Prekmurje layered cake) might be worth a try. There are also three wine-growing regions in Slovenia so a wee tipple might just help wash it all down.
A sample of the local arts and crafts, from crockery to glass to Idrija lace, is always a lovely way to remember your visit, as well as supporting local artisans. A dragon is the city’s symbol so look for this on your giftware for that authentic feel. If that doesn’t float your boat, look out for a piece of Yugoslav Republic memorabilia at the Sunday flea market.